Educator How-To: Make a Balancing Dipsy!

diplodocusFor those of you who have been going to HMNS for years, you may have noticed that we’ve been missing a rather large lady from our Hall of Paleontology. Our Diplodocus, “Dipsy”, was Houston’s first dinosaur unveiled in 1975 and she was de-installed in September 2013. This was her first trip from home for a well-deserved cleaning. Luckily, she’s due back at HMNS in March! We’re so excited for her to be back that we’ve even put her on our overnight shirts! In honor of her return, we’ve dedicated this month’s Educator How-to to this dynamic Diplodocus.

Dipsy can teach us quite a few things about balance! When we first installed Dispy in 1975, she was a tail dragging dino as you can see in the photo below. With further studies, they realized that large dinosaurs like the Diplodocus couldn’t possibly walk with their tail on the ground. Think of all the friction and weight! Instead, they realized that they must have used their tail as a counterbalance for their long neck and head like you can see in the illustration below. To demonstrate how Dipsy uses balance, we are going to make a balancing Dipsy!

tail draggin dipsy

Dispy’s early days at HMNS had her dragging her tail on the ground.


Illustration of Dipsy using her tail for balance on our HMNS Overnight shirts.

How to make your own Balancing Dipsy:

1. Print a copy of Dipsy on cardstock


2. Color your Dipsy (mine’s going on vacation, so I’ve got her wearing a festive Hawaiian shirt)

Vacation Dipsy

3. Cut out your Dipsy along the black lines.



4. If you try to balance her now, you may notice that she’s not very good at it. We need to add weight to correct her center of mass.

5. In this case we are going to use paperclips! Add paperclips to Dipsy to get her to balance. Since she is a very large and currently top-heavy dinosaur, we need to add lots of weight down low to keep her balanced. I’ve added three paperclips per foot.


6. If your students would like more of a challenge, have the students adjust the position of the paperclips and watch as her balancing point changes. See if they can get her to balance using different sized paperclips or changing the location of the paperclips. 


The point on which something balances is in line with its center of mass. The object will be most stable (and easier to balance) if the center of mass is below the balancing point instead of above it. For regularly shaped objects like a rectangular sheet of paper the center of mass is the geometric center of the object, but it depends on the shape of the object and how the weight is distributed (imagine adding a bunch of paperclips to one side of an index card and then balancing it horizontally on a pencil eraser – the center of mass and the balancing point will be closer to one edge now).

For our Balancing Dipsy, the object is an unusual shape and has unusual weight distribution. We needed to add weights to our Balancing Dipsy to make her center of mass below where we place our finger when she is upright. With enough weight we can get Dipsy to balance on our finger or a pencil!

Dipsy is just one of many dinosaurs that use their tails to balance. On your next field trip to HMNS, you can see several dinosaurs in the Morian Hall of Paleontology that have their tails sticking out for balance. See if you can find them all! While you’re here, you can bring your own Balancing Dipsy to see our very Dipsy the Diplodocus. She’ll be back this March!

Sharing The Love: HMNS Outreach fan mail shows kids and teachers agree, hands-on science is FUNdamental

Even with a brand new school year just around the corner, students, teachers, and parents alike are still raving about last year’s HMNS Outreach programs. During the 2013-14 school calendar, HMNS Outreach conducted about 500 presentations, helping foster a love of learning and science in thousands of children. But you don’t have to take our word for it; check out these comments, pictures and thank you notes, all from satisfied customers from around the Houston area and beyond!

Outreach IMG 06

The cards, letters, comments, and notes posted below were sent to the Museum following Outreach presentations:

Our ever-popular Outreach programs have gotten some fantastic thank you cards over the years, featuring adorable artwork like the Triceratops below.

Outreach IMG 01

Our programs get kids on the edge of their seats in excitement! It isn’t often real prehistoric fossils come to school…

Outreach IMG 02

“My students thought the fossils were cool. I have one student that is a dinosaur “nut” and he was so excited!” wrote a teacher following a Chevron Earth Science on Wheels program. From dinosaur fossils to shark teeth, this program has something of interest for everybody.


…and the requests to return are endless once we leave!

Outreach IMG 03


HMNS Outreach Programs have been fostering a love of science in children for years…

Outreach IMG 04“All of our students, parents, faculty and staff were highly impressed and appreciative to the docents’ time, knowledge and friendliness” wrote a supervisor following a Docents To Go program. Extensively trained Museum volunteers present on any of eight different topics in our lowest-price Outreach program. 

…for kids of all ages and backgrounds from all over Southeast Texas…

Outreach IMG 05

“I enjoyed the fact that our students were able to see and ‘pet’ the insects. Also, the presenter introduced, treated and spoke about the insects like they were her own pets. She has deep passion for her work and it showed!” wrote a teacher about LyondellBasell Bugs On Wheels. Staff from the renowned Cockrell Butterfly Center will present bugs of all kinds, shapes, and sizes in a program sure to please even the entomophobic!


…leading to even the most unlikely of friendships!

Outreach IMG 06


It’s great when kids think we’re super smart…

Outreach IMG 07


…because that tells us they learned something.

Outreach IMG 08 

While we love hearing that kids enjoyed our programs…

Outreach IMG 09

“The response was very enthusiastic. Numerous parents commented that they appreciated having the opportunity to let their children experience something that was both educational and fun,” a teacher wrote about Discovery Dome. The Museum’s most popular outreach program takes viewers on a voyage to outer space, a trip back in time, and more, with shows appealing for all ages.


…we are just as happy to hear that the students enjoyed being taught…

Outreach IMG 10

“I have so many favorites from this presentation! Honestly, I think my teachers and I learned along with the students with this one!” wrote one teacher about our ConocoPhillips Science On Stage show. 2012 Educator of the Year Carolyn Leap leads the way as children and adults alike explore topics in chemistry and physics.


…and even happier to hear that it has spawned a love of science and learning!

Outreach IMG 11

“Please have more programs like this one coming to school. It’s always fascinating for children to see live animals and not just pictures!” wrote a parent to a teacher following a TOTAL Wildlife On Wheels program. From salamanders and snakes to alligators and ferrets, kids get an up close and personal encounter with some of the museum’s exotic animals.


Inspiring children to consider STEM careers? We love that, too.

Outreach IMG 12


And it’s always nice to know the teachers are pleased with us as well.

Outreach IMG 13

“Love them all…you are a standard every year” another teacher wrote. Over 550 programs have already been booked for 2014, and spaces for 2015 and 2016 are already being filled!


The feelings are mutual. Our presenters love teaching and working with kids, and cards like these are why we love our jobs.

 Outreach IMG 14

All of the Outreach programs featured above are bookable for visits; we like to say we’re bringing the Museum to you. Bookings are already underway for the 2014-2015 school year, and programs are filling fast, so get in on the action today! For more information, please visit our HMNS Outreach website or send us an email at!

It’s as easy as A-B-C: Five reasons to book a back-to-school field trip this fall

Field Treip memeThe beginning of the school year is lurking just around the corner …

… which we love here at HMNS, where we are even more passionate about education than we are about dinosaur poop (ahem, coprolites). Our venues are chock-full of fun, hands-on exhibits, films and activities that introduce students to the world beyond their classroom.

Field trips allow students to own their education, and to be an active participant in their learning — which is why visiting HMNS this fall is a fantastic way to kick off the school year. Rather than waiting until April and May, give students an early opportunity to embrace HMNS as a part of their educational path. Give them the chance to OWN IT.

Not convinced? Here are five great reasons to pay us a visit this fall.

1. GET THE VIP TREATMENT: You’re a star (teacher), so we’ll treat you like one!

We know that a fall field trip can be a bit intimidating. You don’t know your students, the demands of the school year are looming in front of you, and you’re still waiting on your supply order to be filled. Planning a field trip on top of everything else can be daunting. Don’t worry — we’re here to help.

Our field trip coordinators have all been in the classroom, are familiar with current TEKS, and understand the demands of a full curriculum. They are also at your disposal as you plan your trip to HMNS. Need information about an upcoming show? We’ve got you covered. Want someone to visit your school and go through our amazing opportunities? Done. Need to figure out the perfect itinerary for your group of students? Absolutely.

Our three coordinators spend the vast majority of their time out in the community, visiting your schools and finding out what you need. There is no reason to be overwhelmed by the prospect of planning a field trip — even early in the school year — because your coordinator will walk you through every step of the process, ensuring that you and your students have an amazing experience.

Don’t know who your coordinator is? Shoot us an email at and we’ll get you in touch.


2. ESTABLISH PRIOR KNOWLEDGE: Because those light bulb moments don’t come out of thin air.

Get students excited about what’s to come in the school year, whether you will be teaching them about metamorphosis, ancient cultures, climate change or alternative energy. We even offer free online curriculum, designed to help guide students through the exhibit halls while focusing on a variety of age-appropriate TEKS. Ignite excitement and encourage student inquiry via a fall field trip that you can refer back to throughout the school year.


3. ENJOY FEWER CROWDS: Because crowd surfing is overrated.

If you’ve visited HMNS during April or May, you know how hectic it can get. We love seeing so many schools take advantage of our programs, but if you’re looking for a somewhat quieter experience, consider taking a trip during the first semester. You’ll find that you can explore the Museum without being shoulder-to-shoulder with several hundred other students at any given moment.


4. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FALL DEALS: Because thrift never goes out of style.

Everyone loves a discount! If you book a field trip in the month of September, you can take advantage of our fall special. Bring your students to either the Burke Baker Planetarium, the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, or the Cockrell Butterfly Center on a Monday or Tuesday during September and receive access to the permanent exhibit halls for free.


5. SEE IT FIRST, OWN IT FIRST: Because whoever said “first is the worst” is just mad that they weren’t first.

HMNS is changing constantly — for the better! We are opening new halls, establishing new programs, and premiering new shows that will get your students excited about learning. By bringing your students to the Museum early in the year, you get to experience everything that HMNS has to offer first and take it back to your school to share the love. Trust us, your students will love you for it.

This is your Museum, and we are proud to be a part of your educational toolkit. Treat yourself — and your students — to a world-class experience that will set the tone for an exciting school year full of discovery!

NASA Fly-By at the George Observatory

At the end of November, the Space Shuttle Endeavor made its way back to Earth – and was rerouted to a base in California due to poor weather at Kennedy Space Center. To get the shuttle back to Florida and ready for its next trip to space, it was piggybacked on a modified 747 and flown cross-country on Dec. 11. When it passed over Houston, a science class taking place at the Museum’s George Observatory had a front row seat as it flew overhead. Here’s what Astronomer Barbara Wilson had to say about the experience:

A photo of the shuttle – flown on the back of a modified 747 –
passing over the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park.

George Observatory/HMNS staff received this communication from NASA pilot Triple Nickel.

“For those who care the Shuttle landed in Ft Worth, if the weather is good Thursday the 747 will fly from Ft Worth down to JSC for a flyby and then back to Barksdale AFB.”

Then we received another notice from Flight Director Chuck Shaw of the actual flight path and times.  We watched the flight path on the Internet and figured out when the 747 with shuttle piggybacked on top would pass over the George Observatory,  all of the students and their Moms went up with us to the main observatory deck and we heard the plane first then saw it pass directly over the George Observatory at very low altitude.

Our home school students were here today taking a class on Origins of Flight and a Challenger Mission. 20 students were thrilled to get to see the Shuttle piggybacked on the 747!

The pictures are of the Space Shuttle being transported to NASA at 11:55 am today 12/11/08 and were taken by Laurie Knight, mother of two students attending classes. Thanks Laurie.

You can see more of Laurie’s photos (plus lots of other fabulous visitor-submitted photos of the Museum and its satellites) at the Houston Museum of Natural Science pool on Flickr or on Barbara’s Flickr photostream. You can also see another amazing closeup shot of how the 747 and the shuttle were piggybacked, taken by AlphaTangoBravo when the 747 came closer to the ground, here.